Monday, October 13, 2008

Fly On A Very Strange Wall

Bea has the Psych degree - I have no formal education in the field, but I grew up in the household of a man who went from being a steelworker going to night school, at my birth, to a PhD in Psychology when I was about 12. I think it's a little bit more than just staying at a Holiday Inn Express, in terms of what you pick up, both in terminology and concept, as well as exposure to illustrative circumstances.

Which in plain English means as the kids of a shrink-in-training we were exposed to an underbelly of life other kids never saw, much less even thought of. My dad would take us with him on weekends, to Dorothea Dix Hospital while he saw patients. We didn't actually go inside the hospital, and frankly, I'm grateful - hospitals of all kinds are bad mojo, in my opinion - but we hung out on the grounds with the less dangerous patients. Comforting thought indeed, to a 9 or 10 year old, that these people, often aimlessly milling about, sometimes talking to themselves, were the less dangerous ones.

Once, my younger brother brought a Hot Wheels with him and was running it up and down one of those large, sort of pagoda-roofed trash cans. My older brother and I watched him idly, bored, killing time. An ancient looking old man kind of tottered over to us, stood near us, fascinated with the movement of the little red car. Up and down, up and down the trashcan my brother ran it, somewhat nervously looking at the rapt old man watching his every move. Abruptly, the old man reached out and took the car from my brother. We all stood slightly back, and a little closer together, as we watched him run the little Hot Wheels up and down. Up and down, up and down. My dad called to us just then, from the top of the steps, up at the front of the hospital, and we went to him. We left the car behind with the old man, figuring, as my younger brother said later, "He needed it more than we did."

As benign as that encounter was, it was disturbing to us. We knew something wasn't right, but we were clueless as to what that was. And for every benign, albeit strange encounter, there were others with darker undercurrents. I remember a woman stopping our car as we drove through the hospital grounds one summer evening. She leaned on the side of the car to talk to my dad, her arms prominent in my view from the backseat. They were covered with freshly healing wounds; slashes, gashes and holes crowded her arms from wrist to elbow, and I stared at them in horrified fascination. When I asked later about the scars and wounds my father's answer wasn't explicit, which is probably as it should be, but I still wondered about that woman and what had happened to her.

It made me look at the people on the street differently, wondering how many of these seemingly normal, well adjusted people who smiled as they passed were in actuality fragile and hanging by tenuous, invisible threads. It made me aware that the creepy man in the trenchcoat at the park wasn't there for the ballgame, and that every bum passed out in the bushes by the capital building, reeking of cheap wine and urine, had been someone's child once.

Perhaps that's where empathy is born - in that startling flash of clarity when you see someone who is ill, or hurting, or subversive - and you realize that you could just as easily be that person, as they could be you, given a different set of circumstances.

"Life on the streets, it isn't that bad
or all that it's cracked up to be.
Some are half crazy, others plain stupid,
some they just want to be free..."
Peter Case

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
It's been a rough couple of weeks. The trip to New York was - difficult - I'm still processing it. I've been sick as a dog twice in that time as well, went to an epic birthday party at Cleo's where the Captain did me in, and life goes on, regardless of whether you're strapped in and ready for the roller coaster ride.

14 comments:

thailandchani said...

The one thing we can be certain of, I think, is that most people are fragile. Probably not in that kind of blatant way - but everyone is wounded. I don't think we can live the way we do without becoming wounded.



~*

tysdaddy said...

Indeed, everyone has a story. We forget that too easily . . .

Good to see you around, even though it sounds like life is still kicking you around a bit . . .

FairiesNest said...

Ah yes the good ol' days of wandering the grounds of the mental institution...remember that spring that came right out of a rock there? It was such sweet clean water. There's probably a metaphor there...

bandick said...

You're back! I'm back and you're back and all is right with the world.

Your post highlights the great need for this bill to pass.

csquaredplus3 said...

Glad to see you back.

Enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Hope you're feeling better soon. I'll continue to keep a good thought for you.

Maggie, Dammit said...

What a crazyawesome perspective to have. I love what you said about empathy. Oh, and I love you, too.

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

How our own experiences as children shape our perception of the world around us is vast, and so different for each of us. You truly had one of the most unique perspectives, hands down. I think (in my humble opinion), while it may have made you more aware of the darker side of life, it also made you more open to the idea of embracing someone for their differences rather than their safe conformity.

Ben and Bennie said...

Awesome post and I'm glad you're back. I had a recent epiphany like this in Savannah. After the show wraps up there are about a dozen mostly black men that suddenly appear to help us break down and load our vehicles. sometimes they offer their assistance for as little as $2.

I asked a police officer who they were. She said they are homeless but were the least problematic group on the waterfront. I then asked who created the most problems. She just looked around at all of the folks walking around carrying adult beverages and shopping bags as the sun was going down on River Street. her lack of words spoke volumes to me.

Gypsy said...

I loved this. God, I loved this! This is exactly the kind of writing I can't get enough of. Honest and gritty and beautifully haunting.

I'm sorry you've been having a rough time of it, though. {hug}

g said...

I came over from PROMPTuesday to tell you how much I enjoyed your comment - and found another wonderful piece of writing.

I love the story of the old man with the toy car - and how clearly you describe that flash of empathy. I've been trying for years to write about it and never came as close to it as you just did.

Nice.

Vodka Mom said...

you are incredibly articulate, and tell the most wonderful stories. I could read you forever, and THAT says a lot, seeing as I am ADD. (I love to self-diagnose...) You are right about everyone having a story...

hope you are fine. glad you are back.

g said...

thanks for the nice comment on my blog. I think you're a great writer, but you know what? You should try exercises like PromptTuesday. It reminds me of the exercises I took part in when I was taking Creative Writing classes in college - and, even more useful, when I was working as a staff member at universities and allowed to take classes run by Real Serious Writers.

It's like batting practice. You hone your skill in little quick tests.

Try PromptTuesdays. If you don't like what you write, you don't have to post it.

but try it.

Its really fun - and it strengthens you.

g said...

I should say - I'm only urging you to try Promptuesdays because it sounded like you thought you couldn't. If I read that wrong (and i might have - I obviously found your blog through Sandiegomomma's blogg) please excuse me.

A Free Man said...

I've often thought that there is only a fine line - a couple of different decisions - between me and some of the people that we cross the road to avoid. The more I realize that's the case, the more empathy I feel.

Wonderful post, by the way.